The Truth About Sex-Selective Abortion and South Asian Americans

How a 2008 paper sparked a pervasive myth about Indian and Chinese Americans.

Sex-selective abortion
Pro-choice demonstrators on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington, DC (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Kavya Srikanth


July 8, 2022


8 min

After moderating a film screening of It’s a Girl, a documentary about the killing, abortion, and abandonment of girls in India and China, law professor Sital Kalantry did some digging. She wanted to uncover who had funded the film, but the backers were undisclosed. Persistent, she dug deeper through websites and IP addresses — and found that multiple anti-abortion groups had contributed to the production. Suddenly, the motivation behind the documentary clicked. “Pro-life seized upon this opportunity of human rights abuse in India and thought it was a way to attract pro-choice voters in the U.S. who care about women’s rights,” said Kalantry, a law professor and author of Women’s Rights and Migration: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States and India

In total, 11 states in the U.S. ban sex-selective abortion. Politicians have a history of using this issue to persuade pro-choice politicians to support anti-abortion legislation. In Oklahoma, 41% of the Democrats who voted for the ban on sex-selective abortion were pro-choice or on the fence. In response to a petition to review a 2019 Indiana abortion ban, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that “sex-selective abortions of girls are common among certain populations in the United States,” specifically referencing Chinese and Indian Americans’ “tendency to sex-select boys.” 

The advocacy group National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) calls this perspective a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” since no conclusive data shows South Asian Americans have higher rates of abortion for female fetuses. At best, the perceived issue of sex-selective abortions among South Asian Americans is a pervasive myth. At worst, it’s a xenophobic, racist construction that prevents those in need from getting abortions.

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